THUNDER BAY – Eric Zakrewski has been named the new CEO of the Thunder Bay Economic Development Commission.
The long-time business leader, who brings more than 25 years experience to the position, takes over from Doug Murray, who will retire from the CEDC after a brief transitional phase.
Zakrewski, who most recently oversaw the incorporation of True Grit Engineering, a company he helped grow to more than 50 employees, said he’s looking forward to the challenge of his new role.
“To me, this was a natural fit, in that I get to put to that to use and look to work with the variety of sectors that I already have relationships with – whether it’s the health-care sector, education, manufacturing, pulp and paper, mining – I’ve already got a fairly strong network in all of those sectors,” said Zakrewski, introduced to the public on Thursday morning at the CEDC’s new seventh-floor digs in the historic Whalen Building.
“I’m looking to hit the ground running with that to really help us fulfill our mandate of helping business grow and expand in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.”
Zakrewski says he’s excited to conduct a land-inventory study, looking at all the vacant historically developed industrial lands.
“This is the start of a process to understand what Thunder Bay has for those land assets and looking at a way to inventory them in such a way so we can position them for the investment community, that takes away some of the uncertainty associated with redeveloping contaminated sites or brown-field properties for things like condominium projects or active living facilities for our aging population,” he said.
“We’ve got some really exciting opportunities because we have a tremendous amount of land on the waterfront, particularly that I think we’ve struggled with over the years to make it easier for people to invest with certainty.”
The city and the region face challenges attracting businesses, there’s no question, Zakrewski said.
The key is to focus on the advantages the city can offer, while being realistic with the types of businesses to go after.
Auto manufacturing is never coming to the city, but the world of technology is a completely different story, he said.
There’s a competitive advantage to be had in Thunder Bay, and it has to do with quality of life, and a ready-made workforce of recent graduates from both Confederation College and Lakehead University.
“There’s no reason why, with our highly affordable rent rates here in Thunder Bay, that we couldn’t become a hub for technology companies working on software and applications and computer sciences. It’s looking at the same thing, but looking at it a little differently.”
Murray, 61, said it was time to run the reins over to a new person, after six years at the CEDC’s helm.
Zakrewski is a great fit, he added.
“He’s been in the private sector. He’s worked in the resource and the public side of development and projects. He’s used to working with businesses, he knows what it takes to get something across the finish line and that’s important,” Murray said.
“We get people who come here and ring the doorbell, but at the end of the day you’ve got to get them to sign or lease or buy or whatever else. Eric is used to doing that type of thing.”